Pop culture images of the Maya often seem to go in extreme directions. These visions of Maya society oscillate between bloodthirsty people obsessed with human sacrifice to the equally absurd fantasy of a noble race of peaceful folks living in perfect harmony with nature.
In reality, Maya societies were far from homogeneous and, like us, could achieve beautiful feats of wonder while having an eye always set on warfare.
In the Yucatán, this duality is exemplified by the many sites of the Puuc region, some of which were peaceful farming communities while others were essentially military bases. Representing the latter is Mulchic (sometimes spelled Mul-Chic).
Built in the 5th century, Mulchic is widely believed to have served as a strategic military settlement on the sacbé connecting Uxmal to Kabah and Santa Elena.
The main focus of the research at Mulchic has always been its impressive frescoes depicting battle and military life. The largest measures 28 by 8 feet, making it the largest of its kind in the Puuc region.
Though as nowhere as well preserved as the frescoes at Bonampak, these scenes offer invaluable information regarding warfare in the Puuc region.
Because most Mesoamerican weapons were built using both perishable and nonperishable materials, few relatively intact examples still survive to this day. Given the historical value of Mulchic’s frescoes, they were moved to Mérida in the 1980s for research and restoration.
Like many ancient societies, the Maya drew no clear distinction between civic, religious, and military life, and military leaders are often shown wearing large headdresses and abundant jewelry — though it is unlikely they would throw themselves into battle wearing such heavy gear.
The same principle applies to common soldiers, though to a lesser degree.
Most of the warriors depicted on the murals at Mulchic are shown carrying what is likely a projectile-type spear known as a átlatl.
Sections of the original murals and a couple of lintels are in Mérida’s archaeology and anthropology museum, though they are not always on display. Reproductions can be seen in Mérida’s Museo del Mundo Maya.
If you go
Though Mulchic is right in the heart of the Puuc route, getting there can be a challenge because there are no signs indicating its location.
The best way to get to the site is to hire a local guide in Santa Elena because getting to Mulchic requires making your way by foot through a few ejidos, and it’s best to do so with a local. The same is true of other area sites that are not open to the public, such as Xcoch.